Tellico Plains High School and Sweetwater High School will no longer play each other in football, at least over the next two years. The decision was made in part, due to the scheduling of games, district meeting dates, and TSSAA requirements. Two year contracts factor in as well. This choice is above all, the individual school's decision, but don't think that the districts and TSSAA's influence didn't have something to do with it.
Tellico Plains High was set to be moved into a district with Chattanooga schools, a move that wasn't embraced by the entire Bears Athletic Department due to travel expenses.
Tellico Plains High School Principal Russell Harris always wanted to continue playing the Wildcats, but understands why the series has ended for now.
"They wanted us to move to the Chattanooga district. We ended up back in 3-A, and we had just four non-district games. We had to make a choice. We do want to play Sweetwater though," said Harris.
The Bears' former division at the time of the TSSAA vote, 3-A, had set their meeting for the same day as the TSSAA annual meeting for realignment. Tellico had been set to play six non-district games, and just four district games had they been moved outside of 3-A, which was the recommendation of the TSSAA just days before the vote. Tellico requested to stay in 3-A. The request was granted.
The Bears were slated to play in 3-A, thus throwing a wrench in 3-A's choice to hold their meeting on the same day as the TSSAA vote. Now, the Bears had to switch gears and build a football schedule with six district games, and just four non-district games. If you're doing the math, some schools were going to be left off the Bears list.
Here is where timing comes into play. If the TSSAA and district 3-A had held meetings at a another time, maybe this could have worked out differently. As of now, Sweetwater was one of the teams cut from the Bears' list, due to contracts with other schools.
Sweetwater Athletic Director Rex Rhodes wasn't thrilled with the deci sion, but still wishes the Bears well.
"We were set to play them, but things changed. We basically kept the option open for Tellico, but we had to fill our spot. It's disappointing, but we wish the Bears well," said Rhodes.
There has been rumors floating around the county that the schools could potentially not meet in any sports, starting next year. The Bears and Wildcats are not in the same district, thus any games in any sport played between the two, must be sched uled by the schools, not the TSSAA.
As of now, the talks to discon tinue play in all sports, is ongoing.
"Discussions are still being had between both schools on playing each other or not. That's definitely still on the table," said Rhodes.
It's sad to see a Monroe County rival ry die in one sport, let alone all sports. At the heart of this matter, the TSSAA rules are at fault. It's understood the schools make their own choices, but they are affected by this governing body.
The TSSAA has really worked over some schools in recent years, whether it's allowing a school to make the play offs because of an internal error, then deciding to award another team with a postseason spot, or calling a lineman downfield by one yard, costing a school a state title.
Regardless of how you feel about the state's governing body of high school athletics, the fact remains that the TSSAA hurts more than it helps. The cur rent sanctioned playoff format rewards schools that play and win against schools from this state. Makes sense right?
Tellico's choice to drop Sweetwater actually hurts them because they have a game scheduled with Andrews, N. C., which will not count for or against them. Sweetwater has filled their spot with a team from Tennessee. If 3-A had held their meetings at another time, maybe after the TSSAA vote, then maybe Tellico wouldn't have had to make two sched ules for two separate districts by the time the meeting was held.
In two years, the current contracts will run out, and potentially the football game could be renewed.
If a choice is made to drop all sports though, it could be a while before we see the Bears and Wildcats play in any sport. That is sad for the schools and Monroe County. What's really sad is how the TSSAA can still affect schools in such a powerful way. A Monroe County rivalry is gone for the next two years, and that's set in stone.
If the schools decide to discon tinue all sporting events together, then Monroe County suffers. Schools 18 miles apart should play each other, but the schools' choices were affected directly by the TSSAA's timing, votes, and playoff rules. That fact has made Highway 68, a little bit longer--at least two years longer. And, unfortunately for Monroe County the distance between the Sweetwater and Tellico is growing.